Inside the gym of the Rainbow Recreation Center, on 58th Avenue in East Oakland, the lights dim and a PowerPoint begins. Thirteen people are in attendance—another six will filter in during the presentation—for AC Transit’s presentation about the stations for its $174 million Bus Rapid Transit project, which will run from downtown San Leandro to downtown Oakland beginning in 2016.
It’s another round in a series of neighborhood meetings this month, in which the rapid transit planners are inviting East Bay bus users to speak their minds about facilities they will be using once the new BRT, as it is known, is built. This is the second time AC transit has brought design plans out for public review; a third round of community meetings is likely, according to AC Transit spokesman Clarence Johnson, but hasn’t been scheduled.
Under the basketball hoop of the Rainbow Recreation Center gym, AC Transit community relations director Beverly Greene lays out the project’s basics. The BRT line will have 34 stops. It stretches for 9.5 miles, mostly along International Boulevard. More than 80% of the corridor will be reconfigured to include entire lanes dedicated to buses. There will be two types of stations: in the middle of the street, or on the side. Each station will feature public art, along with lighting and cameras. BRT fares will be the same as those for local service.
Now architect Ron Finger stands and tells the crowd that passenger safety is the “primary goal.” He says AC Transit hopes to achieve this by keeping stations well-lit, and including cameras at every station. Finger says artists will be able to customize certain elements of the shelters, including handrails, windscreens, and seating. Landscape architect Thomas Kronmeyer is up next, and–in his German accent–he goes through the BRT’s in-progress landscaping designs, intersections near BRT stations will have special crosswalks, whose stripes (they look like UPC codes) will provide a “visual clue” that a BRT station is near.
One thing that won’t change from station to station, Kronmeyer tells the audience, are the trees. AC Transit wants trees planted along the whole BRT corridor. Designers are examining tall, narrow trees as candidates to become a kind of visual signature for the whole BRT project. There will be two trees at most stations, possibly ginkgos, maples, flowering pears, or cherry trees. Business owners have told AC Transit that they don’t want the trees to block signs, and other riders have said they would like to see fall color on what AC Transit calls the corridor’s “identity trees.”
The PowerPoint ends and “We Want Your Feedback!” flashes across the screen. Now riders get to say their piece, and ask questions of the planners. Audience member Sheila Gunn-Cushman, of San Lorenzo, begins the question and answer session by requesting a microphone. Gunn-Cushman is blind. “I’ve heard a lot about how things look,” she says. “That’s…nice.”
Gunn-Cushman says she is concerned about designs for the median stations, which are in the middle of the street. “Have any of you stood on a median with cars whizzing around you on all sides?” she asks. AC Transit’s Greene replies that BRT planners are working with an accessibility committee, and that the transit agency is taking notes about every comment, and trying to incorporate them into the final design.
Gunn-Cushman also asks about the distance between stations (it’s difficult for seniors, people with disabilities and mothers with children to walk between stations, she says); the signs at stations (Cushman requests braille maps); and changes in the service on the 1 bus line (she opposes any cuts).
The next question comes from Makayla Major, who is at the meeting with her three daughters, L’amore, La’miah, and LoveInya. Major says that a doctor has told her that the girls may be getting sick because they’re catching illnesses on the bus. The doctor told her to stop taking her children on the bus, but that isn’t an option for her, she says; could BRT be sure to place garbage cans and hand sanitizer lotion at each station? Major, who lives in the Fruitvale, says she rides the bus “everywhere.”
Major is a member of a group called Riders for Transit Justice, and another member, Alberta Maged, tells the AC Transit people that she wants the new stations to be, as Maged puts it, “duckable.” Maged says she’s had “two experiences with bullets this summer,” while waiting for the 40 bus near Fruitvale Avenue and Foothill Boulevard. No one was injured either time, but she says that watching a young man shoot “six to eight” bullets at the curb frightened her. “You’re out there, you’re a sitting duck,” she says. She says the new stations should be designed to allow passengers to hide behind the shelters, in case they need to avoid gun violence.
Ron Finger, who has worked on station designs, says protection and personal safety are transit riders’ most common concerns. Stations will have at least two cameras, and are designed to be well-lit. Finger says the windscreens will be “as transparent as possible,” and made from poly-carbonate plastic that can withstand a blow from a sledgehammer. Windscreens will also have “anti-graffiti” film on both sides, Finger says, adding, “You know what will happen at this corridor at night.”
Beverly Greene sounds a more hopeful note, saying that Bus Rapid Transit will spur development and a sense of ownership along International Boulevard. “We think people will be proud,” she says. BRT is a new concept to Oakland, she says, and people’s feelings will become more positive once they use the service.
AC Transit has received interest from transit users about plans for public art at BRT stations. The project allocates 1.5% of some construction costs to public art, and local artists have expressed interest in getting involved, according to BRT project director David Wilkins. Each station will feature art, and several parts of the bus shelters can be customized by artists. Helene Fried is coordinating the public art strategy, which is still in the early planning stages. She says she expects different artists will design station parts in different neighborhoods. But not all stations will have unique artwork. Rather, art may go in “waves” down the corridor.
Planners say that the workshops—the Rainbow Recreation Center event was the fourth in this round of meetings—have driven home passenger’s concerns about safety at BRT stations. Riders have also expressed a high level of interest in the public art, with meeting attendees asking what the art will look like, and how they can apply to design it. The final AC Transit meeting about bus shelter design will be at 11:30 am on Saturday, at the 81st Avenue Library meeting room.